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La Pont des Soupirs, 1814


The Napoleonic Wars, General de Brigade, 28mm

This week the guys in Orkney faced a challenge, culled from the pages of Charles S. Grant’s Scenarios for Wargames (1982). The idea behind “The River Crossing” is simple – one force is trying to expand its bridgehead over a river using locally-sourced boats, while their opponents are trying to contain them, or better still throw them back across the river. This little game was set somewhere in eastern France in the Spring of 1814, and pitted the Russians (the river-crossers) against the French (the defenders). the two sides were relatively evenly matched – the Russians had six battalions of infantry, two cavalry regiments and a gun battery, while the French had the same, only with one less battalion of infantry.The problem was, the Russians had to ferry their people across the river, and the boats took half a turn to load or unload, and half a turn to cross. We decided it would take twice that for guns, and the limbers had to be left behind. The French also had problems. While a small force began on the table at B, marching towards the bridgehead, the rest came on as reinforcements, half on either table edge, at A and C. The Russians appeared at D, with one unit of their choice already over the river. They could also decide where to cross – anywhere between X and Y.Here’s our version of Charles’ map. Yes I know – the river looks narrow enough to wade across, and the bridge isn’t damaged very much. Still, this game was all about problem solving, so we made do with what we had to hand. Anyway, the Russian players (Alan and Joe) decided to cross beside the destroyed bridge, just to the left of the village. They began with two infantry battalions on the north bank, and on Turn 1 another one began crossing. One of the battalions already on the north bank marched into the village, while the other deployed into line, to screen the bridgehead. For their part French fanned out from the road and deployed for the attack. The game was afoot!The picture above shows what happened next. As the third Russian battalion advanced in column the French launched the 20th dragoons in a madcap charge. For some reason the Russian player decided to stand and fire, rather than risk forming an emergency square, but the volley was largely ineffectual. The dragoons charged home and routed the hapless Russian foot. In fact the victory was so complete (Joe my co-French commander for the evening) rolled a “double six”, meaning he captured the enemy colours.The survivors routed towards the boats. Still, the dragoons took casualties, and retired back behind their lines to reform. Meanwhile the first of the French reinforcements began arriving at A. By then the Russians decided to send their lancers across – a wise decision as until now the dragoons had the field to themselves. Their next decision wasn’t so clever though – they decided to send their guns over – a crossing that would take some time to complete.The Russian Polski lancers sprang into action, charging across the table to smack into the French dragoons. The dragoons were pushed back, and eventually bowled off the table. By then the battlefield had changed again. The guns were across, and took up a position directly in front of the crossing point. That freed up a battalion of Russian infantry to face off the French approaching from point A. The French weren’t worried though – they deployed into line – that’s them down below – and calmly poured musket fire into the Russian column.Amazingly the Russians then passed every morale test, and kept rolling forward, and even charged home, only to be ground down into a stalemate of a fight by the French infantry. Still, one battalion had held up the entire French right flank.Over on the Russian right things weren’t going quite so well. The second group of French reinforcements appeared at C – two battalions of infantry and a regiment of light cavalry. Strangely the Russians advanced out of the village to meet them, and charged the French, even though they were outnumbered two to one. At that point the 19th Chasseurs-a-Cheval charged into their left flank, and the Russians were chopped to pieces. So, the Russians had a half battery (3 guns) of artillery on the north bank, and a very badly battered infantry battalion, plus the victorious lancers, who were regrouping on the hill on the northern table edge. they’d lost two battalions of infantry, and the rest of their force was still on the south bank.It was clear the Russians weren’t going to get very far. While the lancers might have achieved something – like charging into the rear of the chasseurs – the French infantry was closing in, and was about to sweep through the village. There seemed little point in carrying on – besides – it was almost bedtime – so we called it a day. Victory was rightly awarded to the French, but everyone enjoyed themselves. For one of the Russian players – Gyles – this was his first Napoleonic game, and he enjoyed it. So much so in fact that the guys decided to play another Napoleonic game next week, and try out another Grant “teaser”.

 

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